How the fishing sector and environmental NGOs work together

A fishing boat on the North Sea, trailed by dozens of seabirds attracted by the fish caught. Photo: Sarahhoa/Flickr
A fishing boat on the North Sea, trailed by dozens of seabirds attracted by the fish caught. Photo: Sarahhoa/Flickr

When I began working on marine policy twenty years ago, the atmosphere between fishermen and NGOs was hostile and confrontational.

It wasn’t just because the state of Europe’s fish stocks and the marine environment was much worse then, there was also hardly any dialogue with fishermen and the expectation was that they alone should change their ways, without outside assistance. Fishermen felt victimised. Pressured from all sides, including by the media, the fishermen responded by breaking the rules, which led to even more overfishing and a downward spiral of diminishing returns.

When we see how things have changed today – how BirdLife partners are working on deck with fishermen from the Mediterranean to the Baltic and Iceland to reduce seabird bycatch (the accidental killing of birds as they are caught during fishing) – we can see how far we have come.

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Gran Sol may have ‘plenty of fish in the sea’, but its seabirds are declining

A fisher trying to free a live Great Shearwater from a long line in Gran Sol. The fishers agreed to turn off the lights on deck at night, which reduced bycatch 10 fold. Photo: Alvaro Barros/SEO
A fisher trying to free a live Great Shearwater from a long line in Gran Sol. The fishers agreed to turn off the lights on deck at night, which reduced bycatch 10 fold. Photo: Alvaro Barros/SEO

Seabirds are among the most threatened groups of birds in the world. Seabird bycatch (the accidental killing of birds as they are caught during fishing) is regarded as one of the major threats for many seabird species, particularly petrels, albatrosses and shearwaters. Investigating the phenomenon and finding solutions is one of BirdLife International’s priorities.

Since the recognition of the problem in the late 1980s, research and conservation action have been focused on longline fishing fleets operating in the southern oceans, where many albatross species were experiencing sharp declines (BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force [ATF] was created to help deal with this).

However, there’s increasing evidence that the problem extends to other regions as well, including Europe, and involves several types of gear. The European Commission finally recognised the problem in 2012 with the publication of the EU Action Plan for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in fishing gears, and in 2014, BirdLife International created the Seabird Task Force (STF, with funding from Fondation Segré) to find ways to prevent bycatch, for now focused on two problem areas, namely the Baltic and Mediterranean seas.

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New protected areas announced for seabirds in Portugal

European Storm-petrel. Photo: Júlio Reis
European Storm-petrel. Photo: Júlio Reis

Good news for seabird conservation in Portugal, as the country’s government approves the designation of two new Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

As well as the approval of the Cabo Raso and Aveiro/Nazaré sites, two existing SPAs are also being expanded at Cabo Espichel and Costa Sudoeste. The decision was based on seabirdmonitoring data, collected along the Portuguese coast over the past ten years. BirdLife’s Portuguese Partner SPEA, the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds, says the Portuguese Government’s decision is the first step towards comprehensive marine conservation and seabird protection in Portugal.

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The Baltic fisheries plan is about more than just the Baltic

The Baltic Sea at Maasholm, Germany.
The Baltic Sea at Maasholm, Germany. The success of fisheries plan for this sea is the first step to get us on the way to healthy seas and oceans. Photo: Christof/Flickr

On 28 September, the European Parliament, led by MEP Jarosław Wałęsa, and the European Council, led by the Luxembourgish Presidency, go back behind closed doors to try and agree on a new plan for managing fisheries in the Baltic Sea.

You’ve probably already seen a couple of other blogs about it – I recommend Pew’s recap of what has happened so far. ClientEarth has also done a great job explaining the Maximum Sustainable Yield concept (the largest average catch that can be captured from a fish stock under existing environmental conditions) – and how the negotiations for the Baltic can set a precedent for incorrectly implementing management measures to end overfishing, creating a “wild child”.

So what is really at stake if we don’t manage fisheries correctly through these plans?

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How healthy is your sea?

EU Member states are yet to settle on criteria to reach 2020 targets for healthy seas. Photo: Castgen/Flickr
The sea in Calabria, Italy. EU Member states are yet to settle on a new criteria to reach 2020 targets for healthy seas. Photo: Castgen/Flickr

How healthy is the sea you swim in when on vacation? That’s a question many EU Member States have been trying to answer. And it is not just about understanding chemical or plastic pollution, but also if the nature is ‘balanced’.

In 2008, the EU decided that it should have a common strategy to achieve healthy seas. In applying this common strategy, Member States set targets that they sought to reach by 2020. They then laid out their plans – with detailed actions and monitoring measures – to be implemented by 2015.

Fast forward to 2015, and Member States have encountered several road blocks preventing them from being on track to achieving “healthy seas”. The EU is now tasked with revisiting the efforts to set ambitious targets, sufficient actions, and efficient monitoring programmes and see what can still be changed to guide Member States to achieve healthy seas by 2020.

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